Can-Do Kitchen - Bringing Food Dreams to Life0
On a recent Thursday afternoon, eight teams of aspiring food entrepreneurs joined a panel of three local food professionals at Eastwood Library in Kalamazoo for an unusual event. Amid enthusiastic responses of "...sure, I'll try one," artesian food samples were passed around and evaluated by the group, for taste and texture. As part of an exercise for those attending the Can-Do Camp, the professional panel also offered suggestions for alternative ingredients, discussed packaging, commercial logistics, and Michigan market competition.
The 12-week camp program is run by Kalamazoo's Can-Do Kitchen, a 501c3 food business incubator dedicated to providing support for local entrepreneurs since 2008.
That's when Lucy Dilley, Executive Director of the organization, saw a need in our community to support local food entrepreneurs, and began research on existing food business incubators in the U.S. A graduate of Western Michigan University with a Bachelor's degree in Environmental Science, Dilley was inspired by the intersection of non-profits and food entrepreneurship while working at Peoples Food Co-op, known now as PFC Natural Grocery & Deli.
The Kitchen grew out of Fair Food Matters, a non-profit started eight years ago to build awareness, and improve access to healthy food. The expansion of that program ultimately became the Can-Do Kitchen, becoming a stand-alone non-profit two years ago. The program started as a grant-funded kitchen trailer, and is now operating in a fully-furnished commercial kitchen space at the organization's Lake Street location.
Funding the program has come from individual donors, grants and even crowd-funding. Volunteers staff beer and wine sales at the Kalamazoo Farmers Market Night Market Thursdays through the summer months, with proceeds going to operations and scholarships. The Bizarre Bazaar art sale held at Bell's Brewery twice a year also raises funds, with the 2018 summer sale taking place on July 29th.
Since inception the Can-Do Kitchen has had hundreds of participants - from casual food hobbyists to those wanting to see their products on national store shelves. The organization offers kitchen space for rent, memberships, workshops and tours. They also offer start-up support meetings, food safety trainings and mentors to help with business planning for those whose ultimate goal is to open a business. Scholarships are available because as the organization's website shares "...great food business ideas remain locked inside people who don't have access to the resources to bring them to market."
The Can-Do Camp runs twice a year and costs $300.00. In the fall another camp session will be offered designed to teach entrepreneurs about starting a food business, including necessary requirements, best practices, building a support network of peers and learning from local professionals. Individual goal setting is intrinsic to the program. To learn more attend an upcoming group tour about food business ownership and how to attend the camp; reservations are required with a call to 269-492-0261.
A recent success story of the Can-Do Kitchen is Maliesha Pullano, owner of Mamaleelu Cold Brew Coffee. With the help of a scholarship the single-mother started working with the organization in 2014, looking for entrepreneurial ways to provide for her family. Today, her cold brew coffee concentrate can now be found locally at PFC Natural Grocery & Deli, Sawall Health Foods, Earth Fare, Irving's Market and at Whole Foods Market in Lansing.
Pullano continues to build on the tools learned from Can-Do Kitchen programs. Just back from a 'New Orleans eating trip' where she attended the National Coffee Association Conference, Pullano used the opportunity to go outside her comfort zone and network with owners of other women- and black-owned food brands. Pullano says with a smile, "I know I'm on the right track."
The Can-Do Kitchen is definitely growing and Executive Director, Dilley, and Sheena Foster, Director of Operations are expecting to create a third full-time position of Facility and Volunteer Coordinator this year.
In a community quickly becoming a hub for food entrepreneurs, the Can-Do-kitchen is an excellent resource that supports and can help launch dreams!